On fear : befriending and working with it

The following insights on making friends with fear are taken from Chapter 7 of Miriam Greenspan’s wonderful book Healing Through the Dark Emotions : TheWisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair.

Befriending fear in a fear negating culture is essential if we want to use this emotion wisely. To do this, we have to be aware of our negative, limiting beliefs about fear, and to reconstruct and affirm a new set of beliefs.

We cannot be warriors of vulnerability, if we think fear is a shameful, debilitating emotion… Think of fear, not as a weakness, but as information, a signal of unsafety, a usable energy, a way of knowing… What fear tells us is that we are human. We are vulnerable. You are interconnected with others in the fabric of life. You can let yourself feel fear, breathe through it, and use its energy. You don’t have to let fear become panic by avoiding it. You can feel it and let it be, and doing so can open the gates to joy.

These affirming statements about fear may seem dubious. Honouring fear and treating it like a legitimate emotion can be uncomfortable, and feel ‘wrong’. Affirming the value of fear requires a kind of revolution within, to transform the fear negating culture we have internalised.

Try this : Write a list of fear affirming statements and pin them on your bedroom or bathroom mirror or some other place you look often. Changing what you believe about what you feel is one of the most impotant ways to shift an old emotional pattern. Psychologists call this “reframing” and its one of the important skills in the alchemy of the dark emotions.

The following questions might help you frame your fear affirmations.

What fears have you faced? What did you gain from facing them?

If your answer to that question is “none’, ask yourself Why not? What got in the way of facing your fears?

Think of a time when you felt paralysed by fear. What kept you from moving through it? What, if anything, helped?

Think of a time when you acted in spite of fear or acted with fear. What happened?

What did you learn?

What fear(s) are you holding in now? What fears are you avoiding? Aht do you think would happen if you let yourself feel them.

Following this, try the following sentence completions:

If fear didn’t scare me, I would use it to……

The resources and strenghth I now have to face my fears creatively are…

When I view fear as a teacher, I learn…..

Something productive I can do with my fear is…..

Changing your shaming beliefs about fear creates an opening, a place in the heart where fear can live without wrecking your self esteem and composure. The open heart can befriend fear and is ready for alchemy.

Getting it touch with fear in your body and soothing it is the next step….hang in and use mindfulness of what it feels like and stay with the discomfort without acting it out (unless you are in real danger) Consciously experience it and talk to it in a soothing way and to find out what it has to say..

The third step is to find the context of fear.. Say you have a fear of heights, in that situation you question exactly what it is you are afraid of : falling and dying, being out of control, fear of uncertainty. Try to find the peace inside that fear, if you cannot control the time of your death what can you control?… fear of death may underline much of our anxiety.. The antidote is to recognise it is inevitable but not always likely… what might it mean to live well, with a fear of death? And if the fear is in response to a real threat what can you do to minimise the threat, what action can you take or changes can you make? What is one simple thing you could do to make things a little better?

The fourth step : mindfullness of fear is related to feeling it in the body….and relates to tolerating fear as a part of life while using a meditation practice to be with it and breathe it in, instead of push it away or avoid it.. taking fear into our heart we may even find a part of us so scared just in need of some love and kind words. Tonglen, a spiritual practice shared by Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron asks us to breathe in fear and breathe out joy. This practice gives an antidote to the ‘spiritual bypass’ of many New Age practices and involves alchemising the dark and primal. If we avoid painful feelings we only end up creating more pain and suffering.. When we react or lash out, out of fear things never improve, we just get trapped in a further cycle of suffering.

The fifth step is related to taking action in the context of fear. Finding out the things that fear or upset us may promote us to take positive action to make a change.

The sixthe step involves the path of surrender, it comes after looking fear in the face and seeing it for what it is.. Prayer may be a part of the path of surrender, this is the practice of handing over what seems too much for us to a higher power or place of faith. Here are some helpful prayers.

May I accept my fear. May my fear guide me to do the right thing.

Help me when I am afraid, not to be afraid of my fear. Help me allow it to move me to an action in service of life.

When all else fails find some comic diversion.. taking a break from fear to laugh and experience joy provides an antidote to the suffocation and heaviness of spirit fear can bring about in our lives…..

Have you ever? : reflections on the scapegoat and buried emotional trauma

Have you ever been scapegoated by family members? Have you ever had the finger pointed at you telling you you are the problem? There is a saying I heard in the 12 step rooms many years back… “when you point the finger at someone you have three fingers pointing back the other way towards you” (yes folks try it right now and you will see it is true.)

Many many years ago led by his unconscious and dream images psychiatrist Carl Jung had a dream that showed a psychic inner structure that he came to call the shadow. This shadow he came to believe contained all the characteristics of us we are not on friendly terms with or that our family or culture was no on friendly terms with (ie. there is both a personal and collective shadow).

Some people have a lot of darker emotions hidden in the shadow, fear, sadness, rage or anger and some others of us have a lot of gold in the shadow and we may have been the ones others in family or culture tried to project darker things upon. There is also a concept in family therapy that talks of the concept of the ‘identified patient’. This is the family member who develops an addiction or breaks down in some way or has to have treatment. This is the family member that struggles in the family to be the whole of themselves and express truths or secrets others would prefer remain hidden (eg. emotional or sexual abuse). This is the family member that may be more likely to be led on the individuation pathway, a path of trying to uncover and rediscover the entirety of the soul in them that got loss or buried.

I am mentioning this today as lately I am seeing this process play out in my older sister’s (now deceased) family. And it is interesting that this is happening very close to the anniversary of her death. As I see it in the alcoholic or traumatised family there is a lot of pain but rather than every member carry their portion of the pain, each struggles in their own way and often they will target someone else in the family and tag or dump them with things. They may even exile the person just as in mythology the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness with the so called ‘sins’ (or wounds) of the collective heaped upon its back.

Alcoholics are most usually likely to be the ‘family scapegoat’. They may struggle with emotions that were not permitted a place in the family and come to think of it in a feeling wounded culture there are feelings such as anger and sadness which are harder to express and which people are more rigidly defended against. These emotions are often not allowed expression and so they get dumped into a kind of collective psychic waste bin that is then passed on from generation to generation. Pain then accumulates and one person gives expression to it most overtly.

People who struggle with shadow projection may find it hard to ‘get their lives together’ in a culture that venerates this. That is not to say that there are no healthy ways to get our lives on track but mostly they should involve us being able to be real and struggle, to fall down sometimes, to make mistakes, to need help and support and just possibly not do as well on financially or externally on some level as others. Does that necessarily mean such people are actually failures? Does this actually mean such people are not worthy of help? Does this actually mean that such people have less value?

Today in therapy Kat and I were discussing how and why this process of scapegoating and shame dumping in family has been affecting me so bodily over the past few days. I got to therapy today in a lot of physically based emotional pain. I pretty much started crying as soon as I got in the car and the cascade of trauma flashbacks then began taking me back to a trauma (which come to think of it now took place around this same time of year in 1990) when I had to spend hours in casualty after driving myself with severe abdominal pain in the middle of the night. Turned out I was pregnant at the time and that the sac containing the tiny embryo had ruptured. I ended up having to have a termination of pregnancy (my fourth) and it coincided with having to leave the group house I was living in and with my them boyfriend lying to his family and pretending I had had an operation for kidney stones.

After the termination he broke things off with me and I got drunk and ended up at his parent’s place crying and yelling, of course they thought I was demented and out of control and they never found out the truth as he broke things off with me again fairly rapidly (after a brief reunion) and in the aftermath the next 2 years saw some of the lowest points of my addiction spanning the years to December 1993 when I finally got sober.

Well today in the car I was back here in St Vincent’s casualty lying alone for hours and hours as they ran tests. I think too this trauma was triggered over the weekend because calls were not returned by family, Scott was AWOL and my nephew then rang telling me I needed not to give help to my other nephew who is struggling financially in the aftermath of his relationship ending. Being left all alone and waiting and missing a therapy appointment which was delayed due to Easter Monday meant that issue of having to wait all alone was retriggered for me and then the shadow projection onto my lovely nephew triggered how I was treated over the next year by a so called ‘friend’ who kept confronting me about my addiction which was nothing less than self medication in the face of ongoing trauma spanning the years 1979 to 1992.

The truth is addicts often say their addiction saved their life. We use the self medication until it no longer keeps working for us. Recovery then involves a huge and long drawn our journey of unpeeling or unravelling down to the true causes of which addiction was only obscuring or a symptom of.

For me the original trauma is about attachment traumas, wounds and emotional neglect vacancies or ‘black holes”. I now know this without a doubt. After years and years of blaming myself (as most emotional neglect survivors do) today in therapy I finally wept for my true self who so often gets beaten up by a self compassion lacking inner critic who is echoed by the outer critic lately being turned on my nephew. Only another addict in recovery may fully understand that fact unless the person had been trained in empathic attunement. Attachment traumas and wounds so often become gravitational force fields for others, in the well known process of so called ‘repetition compulsion’ what we fail to call up to consciousness will repeat until it is addressed or felt and this must happen IN THE BODY. THE CELLS CONTAIN EVERYTHING.. THE MIND CAN BE USED TO MAKE SENSE OF IT WHEN ATTUNED TO THE BODY. JUDGEMENTS WILL NOT SHOW US THE UNDERLYING PSYCHIC REALITY WHICH MUST BE FACED IN TIME AND DEEPLY FELT IN ORDER TO BE RELEASED AND MADE SENSE OF (BROUGHT OUT OF DISSOCIATION INTO ASSOCIATION OR RE-MEMBERING!)

Scapegoating the sufferer is cruel. It is lacking in both insight and empathy. It concentrates on the ugliness of the symptoms while NOT FULLY SEEING OR UNDERSTANDING THE FEELINGS OF PAIN DISTRESS AND UNWORTHINESS WHICH UNDERLIE IT. Scapegoating serves no other purpose but to bolster up the defended ego and keep in place the ignorance of the Scapegoatees. In traumatised and addicted families or families with multi-generational trauma everyone struggles, but the one who struggles a little more with hidden emotions needs support and encouragement. They need to be brought back out of the cold place of exile and embraced in their full humanity but sadly this will be almost impossible unless the Scapegoatees also face what they are blocking, projecting or defending against or finding it hard to open up to or face. Blaming and targeting others in such a way never really ends well and it blocks connected healing and embracing of the actual trauma that sorely needs recognition.

An exercise in self compassion : Excerpt from The Reality Slap : How to Find Fulfilment When Life Hurts

Reality Slap.png

Find a comfortable position in which you are centred and alert.  For example, if you’re seated in a chair, you could lean slightly forwards, straighten your back, drop your shoulder and press your feet gently to the floor.

Now bring to mind a reality gap you are struggling with (things not being as you wish they would be.)  Take a few moments to reflect on the nature of the gap and how it is affecting you, and let your difficult thoughts and feelings arise.

  1.  Be Present

Pause.

That’s all you need to do: just pause.

Pause for a few seconds and notice what your mind is telling you. Notice its choice of words, and the speed and volume of its speech.

Be curious.  is this story old and familiar, or is it something new?  What time zones is your taking you into : the past, the present or the future?  What judgements is your mind making?  What labels is it using?

Don’t try and debate with your mind or try to silence it; you will only stir it up.

Simply notice the story it is telling you.

And notice with curiosity, all the different emotions that arise.  What did you discover? Guilt, sadness, anger, fear or embarrassment:  Resentment, despair, anguish, rage, or anxiety?

Name these emotions as they arise:  “Here is anxiety.”   “Hello grief!”

Pay attention like a curious child to what is going on inside your body.  Where are you feeling these emotions the most?  What are the size, shape and temperature of these feelings?  How many layers do they have?  How many different kinds of sensations can you find within them?

2. Open Up

Now slowly and deeply breathe into the pain.

Do so with an attitude of kindness.

Infuse this breath with caring and contribution:  see it as an act of comfort and support.

Imagine your breath flowing in and around your pain.

Imagine that in some magical way a vast space opens up inside of you, making plenty of room for all these feelings.

No matter how painful they are, do not fight them.

Offer peace to your feelings, instead of hostility.

Let them be as they are,  and give then plenty of space, rather than push them away.

And if you notice any resistance in your body – tightening, contraction or tension – breath into that too.  Make room for it.

Contribute peace and space to all that arises: your thoughts, your feelings and your resistance.

3.  Hold Kindly

Now chose one of your hands.

Imagine this is the hand of someone very kind and caring.

Place this hand slowly and gently on whichever part of your body hurts the most.

Perhaps you feel the pain more in your chest, or perhaps in your head, neck or stomach?  Whereever it is most intense, lay your hand there.  (And if you’ve gone numb, or you can’t locate any particular place, then simply rest your had on the centre of your chest.)

Let it rest there lightly and gently, either on your skin or your clothes.

Feel the warmth flowing from your palm to your body.

Imagine your body softening around the pain, loosening up, softening up and making space.

Hold this pain gently.  Hold it as if it is a crying baby, or a whimpering puppy, or a fragile work of art

Infuse this gentle action with caring and warmth as if you are reaching out to someone you care deeply about.

Let the kindness flow from your fingertips.

Now, use both of your hands.  Place one of them upon your chest and the other upon your stomach, and let them gently rest there.  Hold yourself kind, and gently, connecting with yourself, caring for yourself, and contributing comfort and support.

4.  Speak Kindly

Now say something caring to yourself to express kindness, support and affection.

You might silently say a word like ‘gentle’ or ‘kindness’ to remind yoruself of your intention.

You might say ‘This really hurts.’ or ‘This is hard.’

You might say  ‘I know this really hurts but you are not alone.  You can do this.’

If you have failed or made a mistake, then you might like to remind yourself  ‘Yes, I am human like everyone else on this planet, I fail and make mistakes.’

You might acknowledge that all this is part of being human, remind yourself kindly and gently, this is what human’s feel when they face pair or a reality gap  This pain tells you something very important.  That you are alive, that you care, that you have a heart, that there is a reality gap between what you want and what you have got.  And this is what humans feel under such circumstances.  It isnt pleasant.  It hurts and you dont want it.  And this is something you have in common with every other human on the planet.

Dr Russell Harris

 

How to validate our emotions

Validating our own emotions is not easy for us raised in emotionally dysregulated or neglecting homes.  It is something I have struggled with so much in my sobriety and feel sad that its taken me at least 23 years in sobriety to get this lesson right.  What am sharing here below comes from the excellent book Calming The Emotional Storm by Sheri Van Dijk, MSW.

Calming the Emotional Storm

(the first step)… is to increase your awareness of how you think and feel about your emotions.  If you don’t know how you respond to your feelings, you won’t be able to change your response.  You can practice the following mindfulness exercise to help you become more aware of and accepting towards your emotions.

Sitting or lying in a comfortable position, take a few moments to let your body relax and rest, letting your breath come comfortably and naturally.  When you are ready bring your attention to the present and begin noticing whatever sensations are taking place in your body, specifically turning your attention to any sensations you have been pushing away or fighting, such as pain or tension.  Without trying to change any of these sensations, just let yourself notice their presence, be curious about them and open toward them, without judgement, even if you do not like what you notice.  Each time you notice yourself struggling against an experience, as best you can, let your body relax into the experience and let your heart soften towards it.  Also allow yourself to open to the experience rather than continue to fight it.  Breathe into the sensations and just let them be.

Now turn your attention to your feelings and thoughts, noticing whatever is present in this moment.   Again draw your attention to any specific feelings or thoughts that you are struggling with, that you are invalidating, judging, trying to avoid or push away.  Bring your curiosity to these expereinces, being open to them as best you can rather than continuing to fight them.  Breathe into these feelings and thoughts, just let them be.

Without judging any of these experieces or thoughts just continue the practice of being to, and letting them be as you deepen the breath.

Levels of validation 

To make the idea of self validation easier, you can break it down into three different levels of acknowledging, allowing, and understanding.

Acknowledging The first most basic level of self validation is simply acknowledging the presence of the emotion:  for example, “I feel anxious.”  By just acknowledging the emotion, and putting a period on the end of the sentence rather than going down the road of judging it, your are validating your anxiety.

Allowing.  The second level of self validation is allowing or giving yourself permission to feel the emotion: for example, “It’s okay that I feel anxious.”  Here, not only are you not judging the emotion.  You are going one step further, saying “This is okay.”  Again, this does not mean that you like the emotion or want it to hang around but that you’re allowed to feel it.

Understanding.   The highest level of self validation, is of course the most difficult.   In this form of validation, not only do you refrain from judging the emotion, and not only do you say it is okay to feel it, but you go one step further and say you understand it.  “It makes sense that I feel anxious being at home by myself, given the fact that I was alone at home when thieves broke in and threatened me with a gun.”

If you have been invalidating your emotions for most of your life it won’t be easy to undertake this practice, and some emotions may be harder for you to validate than others, but stay with it.  Wherever you find yourself in the practice, don’t judge and just keep perservering.  We cannot unlearn old patterns over night.  Please take your time (be kind to yourself) and have patience with the process.

Understanding the Protector-Persecutor complex and its link to dissociation and child hood trauma

Being held hostage by an inner persectuor-protector figure in our inner world is common for those of us who were highly sensitive and suffered significant childhood trauma or insecure, anxious or broken attachments.  It is an issue dealt with comprehensively by Elaine Aron in her book  The Undervalued Self.  In chapter six of the book she outlines what this inner complex is and why it exists drawing on the work of psychological analyst Donald Kalsched. (See my previous post :

https://emergingfromthedarknight.wordpress.com/2018/10/18/how-trauma-factures-the-psyche-causes-dissociation-and-create-the-persecutor-protector-in-our-psyche

The Persecutor-Protector needs to be understood and worked with by those of us who want to stop isolating in fantasy totally (not that we won’t still want to introvert which is important for the creative amongst us and for touching base with our inner world and life) and convincing ourselves we are not skilled or gifted enough to have a valuable contribution to make to the world.

I will open this post with a quote taken from Elaine’s book.

A protector-persecutor that arises from insecure attachment is often the harshest.  In these cases the protector may replace the missing maternal or paternal presence with an addiction, whether to smoking, alcohol, work, or something else.  Or it may create a vision of perfect love the child never received.  It encourages the unbearable craving and yearning while undermining or belittling things in the world that may actually satisfy some of the craving.  It says they are not enough, or not real, just lies or illusions, or will not work out in the long run.

Since attachment trauma often involves an unbearable separation, such as divorce or the death of a parent, the protector-persecutor very often rules out love because it brings the risk of loss, which, it supposes,  you cannot bear, as you could not when it happened before.  Until you work out your own answer to these scenarios, it’s impossible to convince the persecutor-protector that you can live with the pain of separations and loss, that you can tolerate in future what you could not in the past…..

(however) the good news is that as you struggle to accept the fact that all relationships eventually end, you may become far more prepared for loss than those who are secure because they had good childhoods.

When the persecutor-protector keeps you from being intimate with someone you love, do not give up.  Freeing yourself to love is perhaps one of the greatest challenges a person with a troubled past can face, and even a partial victory must be acknowledged for the triumph that it is.  Further, the undervalued self simply cannot be healed without finding some freedom to love.  It is linking and love that take you out of ranking and undervaluing.

The protector-persecutor either as a unit or in one of its two forms, tries to break down every link you make, both outer links with friends and inner links that would end the dissociation it wishes to maintain.  However, you can see why your attempts to dialogue with the innocent (inner child) might lead to mysterious resistance.

Emotions, memories, current thoughts and behaviours, and bodily states related to a trauma can all be dissociated.  Memories may be repressed, literally unlinked from consciousness.  Or your emotions may not be linked to current memories or events.  You may feel numb, lacking all emotion, or all too conscious of emotions that seem to arise for no reason. Your body may be unlinked from memories, so you remember the events of the trauma but have no idea what happened to your body during it.  Your body will still be dissociated from your thoughts, with the result that you are hardly aware of its needs.  Or the body does not link with your actions, and you feel unreal or detached as you go through the day….you do things that make no sense or are self destructive but your behaviour is not linked to its real causes.  You may have stress related illnesses because memories, feelings, or thoughts are pushed down in the mind then arise in the body.  Or you may have recurring nightmares that seem unrelated to anything going on in your life.

As for outer links the persecutor-protector makes every linking situation seem to be about ranking, usually with you as the inferior, although it can also make you feel superior – “he’s not good enough for me” – if that will keep you out of a real, close, lasting relationship.  The persecutor-protector might allow you to link in  a limited way with someone who likes you by creating a false self that adapts to the world, but you know you are not really connected or authentic.

Using examples from her real practice Aron shows how clients dreams often contain persecutor figures and details the means it uses to break links, just as the witch in the fairytale of Rapunzel tries to disconnect the prince from ever reaching Rapunzel in her tower by cutting off her long hair.   This occurs due the prevalence of earlier losses that were never fully integrated into conscious awareness and the fear of not being able to survive the feelings should it ever happen again.

We can work to become more aware of how the complex operates in our own lives.  Some of these are listed below and appear in Aron’s book and they correspond to some of the tactics avoidants or insecure people use to maintain distance or sabotage relationships with others:

  • When we are supercritical of the other, especially after times of connection.
  • When we over idealise to the degree that minor failures are blown out of proportion.
  • When we mistrust or don’t bother to get a reality check or talk things over
  • When you feel crushed if someone doesn’t want to be with you all the time.
  • When you look down on others for wanting to be with you more than you want to be with them.
  • When you decide “it’s all over” as soon as there is the slightest conflict.
  • When you are obsessed with concerns one of you is needy, dependent, or weak.
  • When you cannot stop thinking about the other leaving or betraying you or dying.
  • When you cannot see any flaw at all in the others, as if he or she is a god.

In addition Aron outlines some of the unconscious rules the persecutor-protector can use to keep us safe.

  • No intimacy.   Never open up about personal issues, ignore or belittle the disclosures of others, be flippant or rude, leave if someone wants to be closer
  • No arguing.   Always be nice, end relationships as soon as there is a whiff of conflict or if the other is angry, walk out on arguments (rather than asking for time out)
  • No growth.  Turn down opportunities or invitations to do anything new, do not aspire, act stupid so no one will think of you when an opportunity arises.
  • No dating or marriage.  Postpone, be unattractive, stick to crushes or fantasies, say with someone who isn’t good for you, have affairs with unavailable people, be forever young or flirty when it’s not necessary.
  • No strong feelings.  Stay in control at all times, don’t cry, get angry, be terminally cool.
  • No sex or enjoyment of it.  Avoid, be mechanical, split off, get numb with substances before hand, remove all emotion from sex.
  • No believing someone who say he or she cares about you.  Bat off compliments and expressions of caring and affection.  Don’t believe they are genuine.
  • No asking for help.  Be ruthlessly self sufficient, be suspicious, never complain, withdraw.
  • No honesty.   Just say what you think others want to hear.  Be careful with what you express especially when asked to be yourself.
  • No hope.   Don`t expect help, joy or good things.  Do not place faith in anyone.
  • No standing up for yourself.  Just let others say or do whatever they want, don’t cause trouble, don’t expect justice, respect or fairness.
  • No trusting.  Don’t be fooled; they don’t really care about you (a favourite thing the protector will say to you inwardly.)

As you can see its a pretty harsh joyless confined existence living with a strong persecutor protector complex inside of us, but we can work to understand these rules and challenge the p-p on them when it tries to use them to keep ourselves and others in line.

Your goal is to convince the p-p that breaking its rules and taking risks is working out for you and that you want more freedom…

Listen to its disagreements because ignoring it wont work according to Aron… the p-p needs to be heard but challenged to give up the limiting rules and restrictions it uses to keep you trapped.

 

 

Working not be trapped in my panic/anxiety symptoms : where do I put my focus : reflections.

I have shared much on here about my anxiety/panic attacks.  They can occur several times a day.  I struggle on waking to get moving.  I scan my body as I lie there checking if I am releasing or holding my breath, at times I wake up with what feel to be like 1,000 volts of electric fire coursing my system.  I then often struggle after I eat food as I feel my body pulled this way and that.  The other critical times for attack are in the afternoon after returning from time out and around that critical time between 5 and 7 pm which is the time of day I was born and the time of day I had my accident in 2005 after a cranio-sacral session.

But what I also remember from the day of the accident was I had spent a lot of the day in bed in the room in my lodgings (at that time with a family in Cambridge).  I was only about 12 months out of my separation with my husband and I had made a friend at the Psychological Astrology Course in London called Lucy.  Lucy and I connected for a long time but this day on the phone she was rattling pots and pans and my anger got triggered and I got upset with her and accused her of not listening and hung up.  We haven’t ever spoken again and I had my accident later that afternoon after my cranio session where I relived the trauma of my smash up in 1979.

I am thinking about all of this this week because I am reading the book Calming The Emotional Storm and in it they talk of how our interpretations of an event can drive and amp up our feelings.  For example I assumed Lucy wasn’t listening to me when she probably was, my own abandonment wound was triggered too as a deep part of my own mother wound was Mum was always too busy to be there for me and often I was left in the car while the whole family went into the club to have drink and pay the poker machines.  Oh and sometimes Mum would just ‘forget’ to pick me up after school and I would be standing there waiting feeling a mix of painful emotions, sadness, disappointment, anger, frustration and loss.  Later in life I learned to turn to booze or drugs or food to cope with these feelings which is probably why, when I eat now, I can get an attack.  (Just really made the connection while writing.)

The other day I subverted one of these attacks by trying as hard as I could to get the focus ‘off’ of my body symptoms.  I actually managed to eat and bath and get out for a walk with Jasper all without having one panic attack.  I felt so empowered by that as these attacks when bad have often left me feeling suicidal and could keep me paralysed or debilitated for days on end.

I read in the book The Power of Panic that it is the perfectionists among us who suffer most from panic attacks.  We can drive our own anxiety by setting impossible or unrealistic standards and that is part of my problem and my sister’s too as I see it as we were raised in a spotless house where no fun was to be had until chores were all done.  We had to polish our own shoes, iron our own school uniforms and we lived in fear if things weren’t perfectly in control as my Mum could fly into a rage if so and she had this way of flaring her nostrils like a wild horse and that was a trigger sign we better run for cover.  I remember being hit by a flying hair brush once, having my bottom pierced by the bristles of a brush when she laid into me one day when I didn’t stand still while she tried to brush my hair.  And oh she had my long hair cut off because it was too much work to have to take care of long hair.

I once got in trouble with an AA member for getting upset when a hair dresser took too much off my hair and making a complaint.  I was told by this older sober member that I was ‘off the programme’ and that she didn’t want to speak to me any more.  At that stage of my life I was living in almost complete isolation at the family coast house and she was my one contact with the world, apart from a wonderful therapist in Sydney, Brian Hunt who first started to try to help me deal with my buried childhood trauma in 1992, just a year before I got sober.  When I had asked this person if I could move back to Sydney to be closer to her, she said it was too much to ask (fair enough but gosh it hurt then.)

Anyway I eventually got into a disastrous relationship with an Adult Child of a violent alcoholic who didn’t have any interest in recovery and more pain and panic rained down on me.  And it was frustrating for him too that I could not manage to get my focus off of my symptoms long enough at times to be fully emotionally present.  I don’t blame him any more but I do know his empathy muscle was wasted down to zilch due to his own unaddressed trauma.

Today I use my wise mind to get off my painful absorbing symptoms as much as I can.   I am not always successful.  I am also trying to get a better handle on when I drive more emotional reactions with thoughts and interpretations which may or may not be valid.  I wish to God I bought that first book I mentioned a few years ago when I first read about it.  Its such an invaluable resource as it has a chapter which explains what each emotion is and how it feels to experience it in the body.  It also helps us to name those emotions so we don’t need to be so overpowered by them.  I will share more of it in time as I like to help others here too who may not be able afford these resources.   Today I am having anxiety and panic but I am addressing it.  I am not sure it will ever leave me, the best I can do is try my very best to understand and manage it.

Wild Geese : Mary Oliver

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I love sharing poems on my blog by published poets, most especially the ones that speak to my heart and soul (and body).    The following is such a poem that forms part of William Seighart’s collection The Poetry Pharmacy which I have shared from before.  In his introduction to this poem by Mary Oliver which he prescribes as an antidote for self recrimination, Sieghart writes :

There is a small, wide eyed animal in each of us that doesn’t understand why we keep kicking it.  All we need do to overcome is to treat ourselves like a loyal pet with love, forgiveness and understanding.

Wild Geese

 

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies

and the deep trees and the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely.

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

 

Mary Oliver

Silence

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Silence will leave you guessing

May fill you with an emptiness

That is an echo of those times separation distance or silence was used

To prevent you expressing something

Others did not understand or want to hear

But silence can also be such a soothing balm

It can provide a healing place for a tired or damaged soul

Emptied out and made weary by the cacophany of this world

And its at times soul scalding profanities

Its all in what you bring to silence

That determines whether it is blessing or a curse

A hiding

Or a finding place

Where you are finally free

To open your being and feel your soul speak to you

Truths you always needed to know

That so often others

Could not accept

Or fully understand

Hidden deep in your body

Under a heavy blanket of silence

The meaning we make of things : reflections on trauma, choice, recovery and inner power

The meaning we make of things has a huge influence and power over us and then there are the meanings other influences may project or teach, such as the belief in some spiritual, new age philosophies that we ‘chose’ to be here and experience all we are experiencing for some ‘higher purpose”.  I am not as big a fan of this point of view these days although I do believe we are all being presented with evolutionary challenges all the time and that the attitude we take to our trials and tribulations does make huge difference, but this is different to being told we ‘chose’ something painful as a way to learn.  I just don’t believe that any more.

I have had the thought a  lot lately that I did not choose to be born.  My parents conceived me as an unplanned child later in life and I didnt chose to be born into a much older family where a lot was already going down before I arrived on the scene.  Later in my life and through much inner exploration I have been able to be more objective about what was happening subjectively, internally and implicitly for me as a young baby and child born into this much older business oriented family.  I was listening to an excellent programme on Tuesday on the difference between trauma memory and other memoires.  Trauma that happens to us before age of 2 is not consciously remembered as our hippocampus has not been formed yet so is encoded implicitly and is only available through sensation not as thought.  It is known too that trauma that occurs after the hippocampus is formed affects the size and influence of this part of our brain on us.

I am only minimally educated in my understanding but I remember reading in Peter Levine’s books Waking The Tiger and In An Unspoken Voice how inaccesible to thought such trauma is and how sensation focused therapy which helps us to bear with and relate to pscyho-biological symptoms (which can be both intense and frightening) is the best kind of therapy to help us with healing, integrating, self soothing and containment of trauma.  Also since trauma creates fractures in sensation and experience once such body memories are made conscious they can then be integrated into a narrative which helps us to make sense.

The other thing much on my mind this morning was how much self blame is a part of having undergone trauma.   And to be told we ‘chose’ something gives us the illusion of some kind of power or control when really we had neither at the time and often found ourselves totally overwhelmed and disempowered.  This is why Complex PTSD therapist Pete Walker and trauma specialist Judith Herman remind us how important it is that we who have been traumatised deal with the inner and external criticism and blame that can be heaped on us and how important it is that we develop good boundaries and the ability to fight back if part of the way we responded to trauma was to collapse, dissociate or go numb, or fall into a pararlysis (playing dead so as to escape the threat).  Writing the last reation reminds me of how a wounded animal naturally retreats after a wound to try and heal itself by licking the wound, this kind of ‘licking’ for humans may involve repetitive thoughts or rumination which we play over and over again but if too internalised may keep us trapped.  And then to be told we ‘chose” it, just adds insult to injury.

At the same time there is something we trauma survivors do have power and control over, that is the choices me make as to how to respond to being instinct injured or damaged emotionally.  It may take a lot of time to find any form of power or control or free choice if we remain identified as victims.  The truth is we WERE victims at the time of trauma but we do not have to keep allowing ourselves to be revictimised over and over again by telling ourselves things like “I chose it”, or “I deserve it”, or “this was all for my higher good”.  In time as Peter Levine explains trauma does give us a gift of recognising how important the spiritual dimension of experience is.  If we loose touch with the power of our spirit for life, light, joy and hope, we are disempowered, once we gain access to this power we may find an inner strength and wisdom that was lacking before.  Then we can say that trauma had a purpose but not one we chose, still one the world so sorely needs to learn about and from.   We trauma victims who have in some way recovered can then become voices for what lies unspoken in our cells and biology and may even, in some way, been inherited from our ancestors who passed it on when they chose or happened to give birth to us.

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The link to the programme on trauma and memory can be found here :

http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/allinthemind/trauma,-memory,-and-health/9547446